When Mary Dawn Coleman was young, visiting Mount Olivet Cemetery with her family, her mother always asked her to make a special trip to the section where soldiers from the Grand Army of the Republic are buried.
There Mary Dawn would place flowers on the graves of two Civil War soldiers. She'd look around, searching among the headstones, until she found one soldier from Wisconsin and one from South Dakota - the states where her two grandfathers were born and buried.At Mount Olivet, Coleman's mother taught her to honor the memory of people she'd never met, to respect their contribution to history. "My mother told me, `These people are from a long time ago and far away. They probably don't have any relatives here to bring them flowers.' "
Now, decades later, Coleman still honors the memory of people she's never met. She heads the board of trustees of Mount Olivet Cemetery and gives historical tours of the grounds.
Located on Salt Lake City's 500 South, just south of the University of Utah campus, Mount Olivet is one of the state's most visible cemeteries. Yet its history is not well-known.
Mount Olivet Cemetery was founded in 1874, at a time when the territory's Mormons and non-Mormons clashed daily over questions of commerce, politics, polygamy and statehood.
It's not that non-Mormons couldn't be buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. They could. But they wanted a place of their own.
So Episcopal Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle, with the help of the commander of Camp (now Fort) Douglas, petitioned Congress for 20 acres of the Army's land.
Mount Olivet was Salt Lake City's second public burial ground and the only public non-profit cemetery in the United States ever to be created by an act of Congress. Bishop Tuttle named it after an academy he attended as boy in the East.
The original charter called for a paid superintendent and a volunteer board of directors with representatives from Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist and Methodist churches, as well as the commander of Camp Douglas.
The deed to Mount Olivet Cemetery came with some water rights to Red Butte and Emigration creeks, irrigation rights the trustees retain to this day. Those water rights were a source of pride in early times. The trustees of Mount Olivet reveled in the lush beauty of their park, especially because, located high on a hill, the Salt Lake Cemetery burned brown every summer.
Mount Olivet gained more land over the years. Now it has 88 acres. Half are developed; 31,000 people are interred here.
Some of the state's richest and most powerful people are buried in Mount Olivet. Coleman likes to point out the graves of mining magnates Thomas Kearns and David Keith, the entrepreneur Walker brothers, bankers Russell Lord Tracy and James Collins, Gov. George H. Dern (who was also secretary of war under Franklin Roosevelt) and a number of Salt Lake mayors.
Utah's Silver Queen, Susanna Bransford Emery, is buried somewhere in Mount Olivet. Coleman says that at the time of her burial there were so many rumors "about the silver dress she was buried in and silver dollars in her coffin" that the exact location of her grave was kept secret.
If she points with pride to the mausoleums and monuments, the graves of ordinary people capture Coleman's fancy as well. She loves the angels and the crosses, the horses and the musical instruments that commemorate their lives.
Coleman often speculates about those lives. She stands over the headstone of Zealous Wormuth (1837-1901) and says, "What a name to live up to."
In another section of the cemetery, she points out victims of the flu epidemic of 1914-15 who were buried quickly because they died of a contagious disease. Their relatives may have planned on moving their remains later, to a family plot. But most of them still lie with their fellow victims.
Many of the tributes on headstones touch her heart, Coleman says. Della Louisa Trent's (1868-1907) headstone reads, "The fond-est of mothers, The most devoted of wives, One of duty's heroines." And Thomas Armstrong's (1842-1893) says, "A devoted husband, And an affectionate father, A genial companion, And a good citizen."
One of Coleman's favorites is Mathilde Dean Webster's (1838-1893) marker. It says, "She has done what she could."
Forty acres of grass and sagebrush lie south of the cemetery. It's land that once was used to graze the cemetery's workhorses, land that will lie fallow until it is needed to bury future generations of Utah citizens.